[12/09/09 - 11:54 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "U.S. Attorney" (CBS)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.

(written by Frank Military; directed by Mimi Leder; TRT: 45:20)

What is it? A drama about a team of federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan.

Who was behind it?: Frank Military ("The Unit") penned the hour which was directed by Mimi Leder ("Vanished").

The plot in a nutshell: "United States Attorneys work hand in hand with the FBI to prosecute the criminals who have broken federal laws," explains the opening title card. And with that we meet Manhattan unit chief Michael Cooper ("Brotherhood's" Jason Clarke). He's got a problem: his key witness's (Jessica Hecht) testimony is about to be thrown out due to an improper relationship. You see, he's prosecuting QSP, a corporation linked to polluting a chemical called BPC (Bioaccumulative Poly Chloraides) into the water tables in Middle Hill, New York. Said chemical is believed to be tied to the abnormal cancer rates in the town, a study which was to be presented by the aforementioned Dr. Amy Webber. The defense however has uncovered that she's been sleeping with one of the victims, a fact which will discredit anything she says about BPCs.

And as if Michael didn't have enough on his plate: Susan ("In Treatment's" Melissa George), his ex-wife of six years, has just transferred in from the Los Angeles office. They along with the rest of the team - wide-eyed newbie Eve (Rachel Nichols), rich kid hoping to pad his resume Andrew (David Giuntoli), disbarred-lawyer-turned-paralegal Eric (Lennie James) and non-descriptive Henry (Laz Alonso) - have got one day to come up with a new angle. Thankfully they uncover one: it turns out the company actually launched its own investigation - long before the lawsuit - after one its employees (Edward Wiatt) got sick. That and all the top executives were aware of a German study in which mice developed cancer after being exposed to BPCs.

Unfortunately it might not be enough to get a guilty verdict but the idealistic Michael wants to push forward. Susan conversely thinks they should settle as realistically that's all they can get. This not surprisingly drudges up old wounds - only Susan apparently knows Michael's endless zeal is his way of trying to do right by his deceased mother. And so he presses on with a passionate, but strategically worded, speech as part of his closing and wins an improbable victory. Meanwhile, Andrew and Eric are saddled with their own case: Walter Bertram (Michael B. Silver), a drug company CEO, is accused of insider trading after dumping 20% of his stock the day before the FDA issued its unfavorable ruling on their atherosclerosis treatment.

Complicating matters is that Walter knows Andrew and his legendary lawyer father, whom it turns out Andrew wants nothing to do with. Walter in turn offers a proposal: kill the state's already weak case and he'll open the door for him at a high-priced law firm, finally accomplishing something without his father's help. Ultimately, after some hemming and hawing (not to mention a brief dust up with Eric on how to handle the case), Andrew does the right thing and rolls on Walter, giving them an ironclad charge against him. And finally, Eve lobbies the gang to prosecute a city councilman (Michael Badalucco) accused to taking bribes for hot dog cart permits. She's initially laughed off - oh the new girl! - but her case gets to the top of the pile as, in the closing moments of the pilot, said councilman is found dead in what appears to be a staged suicide.

What works: It's a watchable, albeit pretty by-the-numbers, legal procedural that wouldn't have surprised me if it made the cut. Clarke and James are interesting actors and they both have a few nice moments. The rest of the cast is more hit and miss - Giuntoli's Andrew isn't particularly likable while the Henry character doesn't seem to do anything - however it's nothing that distracts too much from the central mechanics of the show.

What doesn't: I can't imagine I'd tune into the second episode as it's all fairly boilerplate stuff without much spark. Sure it has its twist - exes who work in the same office - but it doesn't really pay off beyond the superficial. Despite some early tub-thumping (the supporting cast gossips about why she's back), Susan's addition to the team goes without incident. Sure she calls Michael out on his motivations for not settling but it's nothing that Eric, also billed as an old friend, couldn't address on his own. And she's not much of a romantic foil either: the pilot eventually establishes that Michael and Eve are secretly seeing each other. Regardless they're all vanilla revelations at best and definitely nothing that puts the legal drama in a new light. All in all, a yeoman's job on the procedural front but...

The bottom line: ...I can't quite help but want a bigger meal.

  [december 2009]  


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